Claire Hallissey of Great Britain is using the NYC Half on March 18 as a test run before she engages in the biggest athletic challenge of her life.
Five weeks later, on April 22, she'll line up for the Virgin London Marathon to take a shot at making the British Olympic team. Two of the three women have already been selected: They are both former winners of the NYC Half, Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi.
Hallissey, who spends much of her time in Arlington, VA, where her husband works as a transport planner, knows that her life after London will take one of two courses: She'll either be going to the Olympics or heading back to the United States to look for a job in medical research.
She's postponed looking for work since completing her studies last summer, choosing instead to focus on her Olympic dream. "I didn't want to look back in a few years and think, "Why didn't I really go for it?'" she says.
As the second-fastest woman seeking the last British Olympic place, Hallissey knows she'll have to be first among her compatriots in London and improve her PR of 2:29:27, set in Chicago last October. (Jo Pavey, who's in competition with Hallissey for that last spot, has run 2:28:24 during the qualifying period.)
Otherwise? "I'm still relatively young in marathon terms, and there is 2016 still on the horizon, but in the meantime I would have more of a normal life for a little while," she says.
Hallissey blossomed as a runner while studying for her degree in cellular and molecular medicine at Bristol University. Though she'd run for years, she was 26 before she qualified for her national team, in 2009.
"When I first came on the scene around that time, people asked, "Who are you? What have you done?'" Hallissey says. The breakthrough, she says, was due in part to her simply maturing as a runner and being able to tackle the longer distances. "But it was also partly that while I was studying for my PhD at Bristol, I could structure my day around running. That gave me a chance to step up my mileage, which made a big impact on my times," she adds.
Hallissey's debut marathon, a 2:36:12 in New York in 2010, stirred the thought that she might contend for an Olympic place. "But it wasn't until I got a fair way round the course in Chicago that I knew I could be in contention," she says.
She hopes to break 1:12 at the NYC Half (her personal best is 1:12:02). That would be a nice way to celebrate her 29th birthday, which falls the day before the race.